RIORI Redux: Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers” Revisited


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The Players…

Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton, with Jeffery Wright, Julie Delpy, Chloe Sevigny and Christopher McDonald.


The Story…

After being dumped by yet another girlfriend, serial bachelor Don figures simply he’ll be alone forever. It’s probably easier this way. But when an anonymous letter arrives one day and tells him he has a 19-year-old son out there, Don sets out on a cross-country journey to confront his past—and a few old flames in the process. Mom’s out there, too, you know.


The Rant (2013)

First off, I want to apologize for the last installment. It was hastily written under the influence of alcohol and hubris. Mostly alcohol. Also having one of your most fave rock n’ roll icons die of cancer would sour anyone’s day. If I were a professional, I would say that the last installment was very unprofessional. But I’m not, so I’ll simply say sorry for being a dickhead. Okay? Good.

Anyway, on with the show.

Relationships are hard. Believe me, I know. I’m in one. Sometimes I can recommend it. Other times, meh. But here’s a relationship that hopefully none of you will ever have. One with yourself. It’s ugly, and gets stale really fast. That being said, this movie did not clean up at the box office. Blame the director.

Jim Jarmusch has been long derided or complemented (depending on who you ask) as an indie darling. The long tracking shots. The signature fade out. The quirkiness. Jarmusch has never made any big coin from his films. His reputation almost precludes this. And I’m a fan of his work. Flowers is a pseudo art house film, not meant for all audiences despite how charming and unintentionally funny Murray is.

Not to mention that I’m a fan of Bill Murray, especially his “late period” stuff, when he hung up screwball for leading man as average Joe. If Murray here were anymore disconnected, his head would fall off. He is as wry as ever, lugging around that look on his face that screams befuddlement and self-absorption. Carrying that ridiculous bouquet of pink flowers (get it?) as his calling card, going door-to-door to all his exes, each one getting worse and worse than previous? It all but practically shouts “kick me.” And Bill is a delightful stooge with a bullseye taped to his ass. It’s really all an exercise in vanity as well as hopelessness. You never get a feeling of rooting for Don, and you don’t have to. He’s not likeable in any immediate way, but as I said before, it’s Murray, and he’s always charming.

Rounding out the cast is a flighty Sharon Stone, a vacant Frances Conroy, an aloof Jessica Lange and an outright hostile Tilda Swinton (whom I couldn’t even recognize at first glance). It’s as if each woman represents a chapter in Don’s life of bad breakups and past mistakes. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. No hidden subtext there. As a tonic, Jeffery Wright is hilarious as Don’s “life coach” and guide on his journey of self-discovery and madness. I don’t know what accent that is he’s using, but it’s oddly appropriate.

This whole movie has a surrealist Wes Anderson kinda feeling, maybe because of Murray. Little touches here and there painting different flavors of bizarre domesticity play out like a reel of Don’s history of crawling up his own ass. Maybe this film is about self-discovery. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale. Maybe it’s the oddest road trip movie ever filmed. I don’t know. What I’ve learned after watching Flowers is this: don’t chase down your past. What you may find is nothing more than yourself. That can be ugly.


Rant Redux (2019)…

Kinda like but not really the glib rant redux for David Fincher’s underrated Zodiac, I don’t have much to revise regarding Flowers. It helped the above draft was short and direct, as well as on point. Upon re-reading it however, another question about casting popped into my head. A seed was planted in my retread of What Just Happened? not that long ago. The question I had is thus: why do big stars choose smaller roles in even smaller films? Like with Happened, De Niro is a legacy actor and pairing him with Levinson (whose star, admittedly has dulled) felt a tad odd, if not angular. Despite the slow pace and overwrought storyline, De Niro was is fine shape and Levinson still had his subtle, nasty edge cutting a satire. Also despite Happened was released to little fanfare and even littler reception it did (to me) open up an inner dialogue. One between my cinematic sensibilities and what feeds that rot. It was more interesting than the movie, I figured.

Why do big stars opt for small roles with small directors? Wait. That’s not quite accurate. Jim Jarmusch is in the upper echelon of “indie” directors. Wes Anderson would not have a career without Jarmusch. Even though Jim is relegated to left of center, he’s known, revered and always engagingly weird. That’s his signature as much as his snowy pompadour. De Niro teaming with Levinson, in the final analysis, isn’t too far a cry. Bill Murray under the gentle, clutching wing of Jarmusch is a bit more than that.

Flowers is a dark rom-com, to be sure, and Jarmusch is not foreign to the bitter humor that drives his muse. He’s kinda like David Lynch with a sense of humor, except said humor stems from Andy Kaufmann’s “the joke’s on you” kinda humor. Whatever funny Jarmusch puts on the screen it can be as amusing as it is cringey. Flowers was no different, and in Murray Jim found his Bartelby, awash in doubt and blissful ignorance. If one considers it, Murray’s Don is an offshoot of his Bob Harris character in Lost In Translation five years earlier. The themes are similar: Bob is estranged from his wife, alone in a foreign land and desperate to reach out to someone. Scarlett Johannson got her breakout role (and only role worth the time of day if you’d ask me. Please, don’t) which was good, and Murray’s desperate Bob earned him an Oscar nod (which he was visibly profane when he didn’t win. Bill, it just doesn’t matter).

Flowers is a spiritual cousin, but unlike Bob, Don is Don. Murray is Murray, lovable hangdog in all its glory. While Coppola did admirable work coaxing conflicted drama from Murray in Lost, Jarmusch just let Murray wander. It worked quite well, perhaps better than in Lost. And I think that’s it, why big stars tackle small projects. De Niro’s dyed-in-wool style is intense, bleak, loudmouthed and darkly funny. Having aforementioned hangdog is well out of his wheelhouse, which is why I think Method actors take smaller roles. It could be to stretch their range, to try something weird that Big Hollywood would deem “unprofitable,” or just to have a little fun and f*ck around some. Getting off the radar allows a lot of stretching out and dusting off shoulders, Kayne-style.

Yeah, so that’s my hypothesis. Big stars opt for “small” roles in “small” films so to flex their thespian muscles as well as decompress. Toss around the medicine ball before bench pressing again. Both Flowers and Happened are good illustrations of that practice, I feel. Makes for better roles afterwards, I hope.

De Niro’s next role after HappenedRighteous Kill. Well…

Murray’s next role after Flowers: Garfield: A Tale Of Two Kitties. Umm…

It’s just a theory, after all.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Sustained: rent it. Again, Jarmusch’s films are decidedly not for everyone, especially those who have short attention spans. And Murray not being outwardly funny is also an acquired taste. Still, big names doing little things well stand for a lot these days. Consider the midget mathematician: it’s the little things that count.

I regret nothing much.


Next Installment…

We look through A Scanner Darkly once more and consider what the heck Richard Linklater was getting into.


 

RIORI Vol. 2, Installment 22: Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” (2004)


Zissou


The Players…

Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchette, Anjelica Huston, Willem Defoe and Jeff Goldblum.


The Story…

With a plan to exact revenge on a mythical shark that ate his partner, oceanographer Steve Zissou rallies a crew that includes his best and brightest.

Not.

For some matter of circumstance, Steve enlisted he estranged wife, a pushy journalist, and a fanboy of the Zissou Society who may or may not be his son to bag the beast. Sure. This is gonna be sane work. Now pass the dynamite.


The Rant…

Oddly enough, the first actor I ever paid attention to was Bill Murray. I say oddly because I was eight years old at the time. Not your average age for a budding cinephile, at least not regarding movies that cast talking forest creatures. Murray grabbed me for the first time when I saw Ghostbusters in the theater in the summer of ’84.. Ha ha! That’s gotta be a cultural exclamation point to…someone. Right?

*mopes, cries in beer*

I immediately took a shine to Murray’s Peter Venkman. I knew nothing about SNL at the time; I was in bed before that sh*t ever hit the airwaves. Eight years old, remember. At that age I was convinced that Han Solo and Chewie were real people. Well, person and his Wookiee sidekick. Anyway, all I got from Ghostbusters was that I needed a proton pack and Bill Murray was funny. Witty and funny and always there with a smart remark (this hero worship was only made concrete after I saw Meatballs that same summer and later Stripes as a teen). For a reliable laugh, even when he’s trying to tackle “serious” movies, make a bee-line to whatever Murray’s starring in (yes, even Lost In Translation. Without Murray, Scarlett Johansson may not have a career. Noodle that one). You won’t be let down, no matter how lame the movie. Like my acting hero Sean Connery, a lot of Murray’s movies can get pretty lousy. But he’s always good.

Now here’s the cookie. Murray has for over a decade been trying to shed his madcap CV, and try his hand as the aforementioned “serious” movies with middling results. There was the abortive The Razor’s Edge released the same time as Ghostbusters. Bill Murray? Doing grown up sh*t? What’s up with that? Does he battle gophers in that one, too?

I remember this quite keenly. As I was shuffling through the kerjillion VHS titles at the local supermarket kiosk (this was the 80’s, mind you) trying to tackle a copy of Tim Burton’s Batman I saw Murray’s signature hangdog on the cover sleeve of this movie I’d never heard of. The Razor’s Edge? Didn’t sound funny to me. I didn’t know at the time it was Murray’s first foray into drama, this interpretation of Somerset Maugham’s novel. I didn’t know what a foray was, either. I kinda dug the idea of Peter Venkman trying to be an adult. Don’t ask me why; I was kid. I think it might’ve been him being a so-called adult in Meatballs to see him do, I dunno, other stuff, more grown-up like.

Nah. I knew Murray was gonna be a kid regardless of what movie he was in, no matter how old he got. I was sure. There was always going to be that wit, that sarcasm and those keen facial expressions that were so much like a droopy bulldog against earnest eyes that made for good facetime. And you know what? I was right. I reported on it in Broken Flowers. It worked to great ends in Lost in Translation. And now as Steve Zissou, all those aspects come into focus. Now it’s in a “serious” aspect.

But Zissou ain’t Lost in Translation. It’s a Wes Anderson film.

It’s a good thing, crumbs and all…


Renowned oceanographer Steve Zissou (Murray) has a bit of a problem. More like a dilemma. Actually it’s more like a vendetta. While doing some diving and research of what could be a new species of shark—a “jaguar shark,” if you will—Zissou’s right hand man Esteban is captured and eaten by the elusive creature. Bummer. So at a symposium announcing the next plans for Team Zissou, now that a valuable member of the crew is gone and not coming back. Steve simply states he will hunt down and kill the shark that ate his friend. Revenge, a simple enough motivator.

After the symposium concludes, an enthusiastic young man, lifetime member of the Zissou Society and maybe Steve’s illegitimate son accost Zissou. His name is Ned (Wilson), and seems a decent enough fella. Steve is at first taken aback by this claim, but hey, he’s gotten around so who knows? Zissou hatches a plan: if this kid is really his, why not drag him along on the next expo with him and his crew? Find the shark, kill it, trophy on the wall, revenge exacted. Drinks all around. Ned could work the camera or ask poignant questions on one of Zissou’s next in an endless parade of documentaries. Ned could carry on Steve’s legacy, give good face or just simply stroke Steve’s flaccid ego. Who knows?

So now Steve reassesses his situation. He’s got to get back to the sea. He’s got to make a new documentary in order to get more funding. He’s got his maybe-so-maybe-not son in tow. He’s got a crew full of more ne’er-do-wells than a cheap Kid Monk movie. He’s got to one-up his on again/off again nemesis. And he’s got a shark to kill. Busy, busy, busy…


Wes Anderson’s movies are not what you’d call an acquired taste, like for Tom Waits for maple bacon ice cream. His oeuvre is decidedly a niche market. You don’t warm up to his stuff, you either get it or you don’t. Most of the mainstream doesn’t seem to get Anderson; even the praise he does get from critics tend to be from some Podunk periodical written by a fanboy intern who has indulged in magic brownies. Granted the left of center sensibilities yields very amusing results, Anderson’s sh*t isn’t the flavor in Columbus.

“Amusing” is the watchword of Anderson’s films. They’re not outright funny. A tad screwy, yes. And please don’t use the very tired term “quirky” to encapsulate his filmography. That’s as outmoded as 56k dial-up. But Zissou does fall right in line with the director’s muse, audience be damned. Oddball characters, inscrutable plots and comic dialogue so dry it chafes. That’s Anderson’s stock-in-trade. And remember what I was quailing about earlier with Murray? His deadpan deliveries and dry humor are indispensible to this film. Man’s worked with Anderson on a few other projects, so he settles in here like a round peg.

Like I’ve said in past reports of RIORI installments with Bill Murray, his signature slouching face and “What? Me worry?” comic delivery is priceless. His Steve Zissou is a practically perfect vehicle for Murray’s attitude and that delivery here. The guy’s a kid, forever and always, and Zissou here has got to be one of the most juvenile, spoiled drudges that has ever come off the projector. He’s a kid all right: an entitled, effete kid. He goes where his whims take him using the sea as an excuse. He’s self-important, kinda clueless and all always there to deliver the quick, albeit dry one-liner. If you’re a Murray fan you get it. The casual moviegoer wouldn’t take their time to warm up to him. I don’t think.

On the other hand, Wilson is Murray’s foil. Affable, naïve and with the corniest Southern accent this side of grits. He character’s wistful and lighthearted. He also seems to be the most normal and well-adjusted member of Team Zissou. He gives Murray an excellent spring to bounce off of. Granted it’s a tiny bounce, but it works. I don’t think Zissou would’ve held together as well if it weren’t for Wilson. He’s the only character in the film that is relatable enough to ride along with, stupid accent or no. He’s has a certain subtlety about him, reserved. It’s kinda endearing. And isn’t Wilson almost always the likeable straight man in all his cinematic efforts? Yeah. Don’t argue. He can make me smile too.

Stylistically, Anderson employs his usual, although welcome bag of tricks. He uses a lot of bright, often garish colors in his scenes, as if to relay to the audience that, yes, Team Zissou is a circus. And it is a circus. Surreal. There’s a lot of—let’s beat this word to death—odd, deliberate, angular shots that make the film feel at time expansive and other times confined. It’s like the whole damned mess is breathing.

An aside: a new trick that had to be pointed out in this movie (maybe a first for Anderson) is his use of music. All those Bowie songs sung in—what is that—French? What’s up with that? I liked it, but I like Bowie. Just another oddity in a movie full of ‘em. Somehow noteworthy, ‘though I can’t put my finger on why (any ideas out there in the blogosphere? Send me some comments, dammit.)

Anderson’s films are not designed to make money. They must fill something in his heart and soul, because the feel of this movie, like all his others, is off kilter. Despite how moviegoers these days are a cynical, jaded, looking for ironic stuff without knowing the proper definition of irony kind of crowd, his movies are not box office smashes. Not critical hits. Darlings maybe, but never outright hits. Anderson’s muse has a real affinity (or a maw that cannot be fed) for dysfunctional, comic and clueless characters doing foolish and candidly ignoble things. His flicks move at a meandering pace. The stuff’s surreal but not over the top or in your face like read this eye chart and see how low you can read. Nope. It is what it is, take it or leave it. Niche market. I like that kind of thing.

Call me hopelessly biased between Bill Murray’s childlike performance and Anderson’s style of humor, I really enjoyed Zissou. Not because I’m some pretentious douchenozzle who only veers towards offbeat cinema (c’mon, if you’ve read previous installments I dug Pacific Rim AND After Earth. And I didn’t like Rushmore. There is never any accounting for taste). I like characters. I like actors. I like good actors. I like seeing them in silly circumstances sometimes. And most of the time, I like Anderson’s way of doing it.

So. What to do, what to do? I tell ya, I’m gonna recommend this movie. Problem is that Anderson’s stuff is in that confined niche market. Are you a buyer?


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Like I alluded to: rent it. But this’ll probably be a directive to Anderson fans only. Zissou is the usual fare. Catch it!


Stray Observations…

  • Anjelica Huston seems ageless. She’s like the American Sofia Loren.
  • “Do the interns get Glocks?”
  • Michael Gambon is a versatile actor. And busy too. I just saw him in Sky Captain. Boy gets around.
  • “Son of a bitch, I’m sick of these dolphins.”
  • A lot of mid-80’s tech floating around in Zissou. Was this supposed to be a period piece?
  • “What about my dynamite?” If it only it was that easy. F*ck any waiting period!
  • I’d be remiss in my nerdy pop culture duties (see The To-Do List) if I didn’t point out the lone non-Bowie tune in the film was the Stooge’s “Search and Destroy.” Maybe it had something to do with Bowie being Iggy Pop’s benefactor on the Raw Power album? Or just did it sound cool here? I’m leaning towards numero dos.
  • “That’s it. I’m retiring.”

Next Installment…

Robert Downey, Jr. returns as Tony Stark as he once again dons the armor in Iron Man 2.


RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 11: Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers” (2005)


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The Players…

Bill Murray, Jeffery Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton.


The Story…

After being dumped by yet another girlfriend, serial bachelor Don figures simply he’ll be alone forever. It’s probably easier this way. But when an anonymous letter arrives one day and tells him he has a 19-year-old son out there, Don sets out on a cross-country journey to confront his past—and a few old flames in the process. Mom’s out there, too, you know.


The Rant…

First off, I want to apologize for the last installment. It was hastily written under the influence of alcohol and hubris. Mostly alcohol. Also having one of your most fave rock n’ roll icons die of cancer would sour anyone’s day. If I were a professional, I would say that the last installment was very unprofessional. But I’m not, so I’ll simply say sorry for being a dickhead. Okay? Good.

Anyway, on with the show.

Relationships are hard. Believe me, I know. I’m in one. Sometimes I can recommend it. Other times, meh. But here’s a relationship that hopefully none of you will ever have. One with yourself. It’s ugly, and gets stale really fast…


Poor Don Johnston (Murray). He sucks at relationships in a habitual way. Can’t stay with one woman for any appreciable amount of time, and sure enough, they all eventually leave, sick of his sorry ass. Seems Don is trapped as a career bachelor, hopelessly stuck in an affair with himself and his past. And he’s a chump for it.

One day, Don receives an odd letter in the mail. A pink letter. No name. No return address. Handwriting unfamiliar. Message damning. It’s from an old flame, casually informing Don that he has a 19-year old son by her, whomever she may be. This lights a fire under his ass, and Don seeks out his security expert neighbor Winston (Wright) for advice. Of course, who else? He recommends to Don that he goes through his little black book of memories and seek out any female potential leads from his past to locate his quarry. Sure. Seems logical. So with nothing but hazy recollections of his failed relationships as his guide, Don goes on a cross-country adventure hunting for the mother of his mystery son.

And he finds out that each relationship ended for a reason. Sometimes a very good reason…


This movie did not clean up at the box office. Blame the director.

Jim Jarmusch has been long derided or complemented (depending on who you ask) as an indie darling. The long tracking shots. The signature fade out. The quirkiness. Jarmusch has never made any big coin from his films. His reputation almost precludes this. And I’m a fan of his work. Flowers is a pseudo art house film, not meant for all audiences despite how charming and unintentionally funny Murray is.

Not to mention that I’m a fan of Bill Murray, especially his “late period” stuff, when he hung up screwball for leading man as average Joe. If Murray here were anymore disconnected, his head would fall off. He is as wry as ever, lugging around that look on his face that screams befuddlement and self-absorption. Carrying that ridiculous bouquet of pink flowers (get it?) as his calling card, going door-to-door to all his exes, each one getting worse and worse than previous? It all but practically shouts “kick me.” And Bill is a delightful stooge with a bullseye taped to his ass. It’s really all an exercise in vanity as well as hopelessness. You never get a feeling of rooting for Don, and you don’t have to. He’s not likeable in any immediate way, but as I said before, it’s Murray, and he’s always charming.

Rounding out the cast is a flighty Sharon Stone, a vacant Frances Conroy, an aloof Jessica Lange and an outright hostile Tilda Swinton (whom I couldn’t even recognize at first glance). It’s as if each woman represents a chapter in Don’s life of bad breakups and past mistakes. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. No hidden subtext there. As a tonic, Jeffery Wright is hilarious as Don’s “life coach” and guide on his journey of self-discovery and madness. I don’t know what accent that is he’s using, but it’s oddly appropriate.

This whole movie has a surrealist Wes Anderson kinda feeling, maybe because of Murray. Little touches here and there painting different flavors of bizarre domesticity play out like a reel of Don’s history of crawling up his own ass. Maybe this film is about self-discovery. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale. Maybe it’s the oddest road trip movie ever filmed. I don’t know. What I’ve learned after watching Flowers is this: don’t chase down your past. What you may find is nothing more than yourself. That can be ugly.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. But hard choice this. Jarmusch’s films are decidedly not for everyone, especially those who have short attention spans. Let’s say if you’re a fan of Jarmusch, then see it. It’s got all his trademarks, good and bad. If you’re not a fan…What the hell, rent it anyway. It’s an interesting little piece of cinema, and consider it training wheels for other quirky indie films out there.


Stray Observations…

  • Bill Murray has mastered the hangdog. I think you could trace that all the way back to Carl Spackler from Caddyshack infamy. Something about Murray’s eyes when he delivers dialogue.
  • “Don’t worry. I’ll monitor your house everyday.” We all need a neighbor like Winston. We do. Save the accent.
  • “I’m a stalker. In a Taurus.”
  • That’s Murray’s actual son with the scene outside the cafe. The whole film’s about a family affair, right?

Next Installment…

Keanu Reeves looks through A Scanner Darkly. Whoa.